Maureen McKay (left) and Ailyn Pérez as Susanna and the Countess, The Marriage of Figaro, costumes by Gabriel Berry, Wolf Trap Opera, 2006, photograph by Stan Barouh
When I ended up at the Filene Center by mistake last weekend, I thought that the capacity crowd for folk music was there for classical music. What a difference a week makes! Figaro is about as perfect as an opera buffa can get, and it can usually make even a pretty good production, like this one, into something enjoyable. Although the weather cooperated with a dry and pleasantly breezy evening, vacationing Washingtonians did not turn up in great numbers, filling somewhere between a third and a half of the theater and lawn. I wrote last year, when Wolf Trap Opera slashed a full staging of Rossini's La Cenerentola with several performances down to a single, semi-staged concert version, that opera in the Filene Center is probably a lost cause, and my opinion has not changed. It is, I'm afraid, bordering on unfair to throw younger singers into this kind of venue. The issue, I would guess, is that there is not enough room in the Barns for a full orchestra. However, several performances in the Barns, more or less full, without the need for amplification, must be preferable to an undersold night or two in the echo cavern.
The opening scene on stage as we took our seats -- the staging is by Robin Guarino, with sets by Donald Eastman and costumes by Gabriel Berry -- was enchanting. The bedframe suspended on a rope, over a modest room of furniture in dustwraps, delighted Mini-Critic's eye. (It was the first thing he mentioned to his mother the next morning, although he was disappointed that Figaro did not use a tape measure to measure the space for the bed. This was the only part of my brief -- and censored -- explanation of the plot that stuck in his mind.) A rope-and-pulley system to lift the new bed up to an upper floor apartment in the Count's residence, where servants usually live, was a nice and realistic touch. The hay on the floor, I thought, must have been the packing material for the couple's belongings. It seemed traditional but pleasing enough. The hay remained, however, with the bare wood of the platform exposed throughout the opera. It was a pretty shabby château, and for whatever reason, the Count and Countess had to park their old carriages in the romantic pine grove of the final act. Robert Wierzel's slanting auroral and crepuscular lighting added some much-needed warmth.
Stephen Brookes, 'Figaro': A Triumph of Mozart Over Matter (Washington Post, August 21)
Stephen Brookes, A Summer Night's Figaro (Most of the Shebang, August 21) — in which the critic admits that the picture may not have been as rosy as it sounds in his review in the Post
T. L. Ponick, Wolf Trap Opera's 'Figaro' a sparkler (Washington Times, August 21)
There were some embarrassments from the orchestra, led not very decisively by Ari Pelto. Tempos were up and down, and there were more than a few discrepancies between stage and pit, mostly due to singers rushing. While the wind playing was generally fine, the violins lacked unity and I have never heard worse horn playing in a professional situation, as far as the sheer number of missed notes. In a Wolf Trap season that has had several successes (Orpheus, Roméo et Juliette, Le Comte Ory), this was a relative low point. There is always so much to enjoy in Mozart's music, but it must be said that this particular rendition was more ordinary than not.
We get letters here at Ionarts, oh boy, do we get letters... If we write anything negative, we get angry comments that are transparently the work of friends or acquaintances of the performers. The people who submit such vitriolic comments inevitably do so anonymously.